(by Ramsay Banks)
Today, the club’s official Twitter account confirmed that Ross Stewart has joined Sunderland for an undisclosed fee. The target man signed a two and a half year contract at the Stadium of Light, with an option for an extra year. Stewart made his final appearance for the Staggies in a 2-0 defeat at Celtic Park, but he had to be subbed on the 35 minute mark due to an injury that stopped him from appearing for County again.
Stewart joined Ross County in August of 2018 after we were relegated to the Scottish Championship. He quickly turned out to be an inspired signing, scoring 11 goals across the season, and proving to be a thorn in the side of our Inverness rivals in particular, netting against them on three occasions. When County were promoted, questions were raised as to whether the talisman could make the step up. He was more than up to the task, scoring crucial goals against the likes of Hibs and finishing joint top scorer for the club with Billy McKay before the season was halted. He has been less prolific this year, but he offered a lot when he wasn’t scoring goals which is a very hard thing for a striker to do.
The sheer amount of interest from other clubs over his time at Ross County shows how brilliant he was and he’ll be sorely missed in the side. Everybody of Staggies loyalty knows what he is capable of, in League 1 and beyond.
We’ll never know where Stewart would have been in the managers plans had he stayed after coming back from injury. However, it’s time to take a look at what the Staggies strikeforce might look like from now on- especially with the signing of Jordan White.
A point to prove and a point been proven?
A two man pairing with a big target man knocking the ball down for a lethal finisher is a tried and tested type of partnership in the game. In the case of County, this could be Jordan White serving them up for Oli Shaw. I feel that the man signed from Motherwell will be eager to score some goals himself though, having never scored in 20 appearances for the club. I feel this partnership could work well- giving a striker in form a large presence to bounce off of, and giving a striker out of form someone who is scoring for fun to assist and hopefully emulate.
The Unpredictable, The Prolific, and The Tenacious
When John Hughes has opted for a front 3 it’s usually consisted of Jermaine Hylton, with the tricks up his sleeve keeping the opponent guessing, Regan Charles-Cook, making defenses slip up with his relentless pressing and Oli Shaw, who simply puts the ball in the back of the net in any way he can find, and also often drops deep to collect the ball in midfield to give it to the two running wingers. I feel these 3 will be particularly effective in games where the Staggies are expected to lose- John Hughes will never set up to grind out a result, and leaving 3 players up the pitch is a large gamble. It’ll leave us slightly shorter trying to win the ball back once it drops behind the trio, but in the transition forward it can be lethal, especially against a high line- like it was in the first half against Motherwell.
Here, there, everywhere
Watch any Ross County game and you’ll see Harry Paton demanding the ball in any area of the final third. He does this even more when he’s given the role of “the second striker”, like he was in games against Rangers and Livingston, among others. In games against more possession based teams, this leaves the Canadian isolated with Oli Shaw in this tactical setup, he doesn’t drop back to contest possession of the ball as much. At his best however, there is nobody better to carry the ball forward through midfield to relay to the main man up top. I think it’s testament to how good he’s been that Shaw is crucial in every one of these tactical setups.
Despite the healthy options we have up front, nobody can deny Stewart will be missed. No matter how patchy of a season he was having, he always carried a threat. When firing he’s absolutely unplayable, so I doubt it’ll be long before the clubs of League 1 will be planning their tactics around how to stop him.